James O'Brien's Blog
Touring the City, Feeling the Pressure, Taking a Beating
Sunday, August 5th
There are so many sights to see in London. Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and on and on. You could spend a lot of time just touring around the city and still not see it all.
If you tried to do that today, you might have had some problems. In addition to the legions of tourists who are visiting London for the Olympic Games, and in addition to the many road-restrictions that challenge the already over-burdened London roads, this morning the women’s marathon took place. That meant more closures; but, it also meant a tour of the city’s sights for a phalanx of the world’s finest female aerobic athletes.
Among the throng was Lisa Stublic, a member of the NYAC, but representing Croatia, the homeland of her father. Lisa holds the Croatian records at 5000m, half marathon and marathon. In 2010,she was the fastest marathoner in the country - that means, fastest marathoner, period, regardless of gender. By competing here today, Lisa became the first Croatian woman ever to contest an Olympic marathon; and she did so nobly.
She would, no doubt, have preferred to have finished higher than her 52nd position and to have run faster than her 2:34:03. Her 1:13:14 half way split, in the midst of the large leading pack, gave indication that such was on her mind in a big way. The second half was a longer day at the officethan the first, though; but, that’s the way the marathon is. It’s not supposed to be easy.
Also in action today, but not enjoying a tour of the city, were Kibwe Johnson in the final of the men’s hammer throw, and Jamie Nieto in the qualifying rounds of the men’s high jump. Eight years ago, in Athens, Jamie placed fourth in this event, just two centimeters behind the winner, and on the same height as both the silver and bronze medalists. (The placings were decided by who had the fewest misses). Jamie’s Olympic pedigree is impressive, to say the least, and he made that evident tonight. With no problems, he sailed over 2.16, 2.21 and 2.26 before fouling out at 2.29. That was fine; it was all he needed to get through to the big round, which will take place on Tuesday evening (August 7th).
It was the hammer throw final that really drew the NYAC attention this evening. Over the last couple of year’s Kibwe has progressed to become one of the leading hammer throwers in the world. Notably, his coach is Anatoly Bondarchuk, the Olympic champion in this event in 1972 though, these days, he is most renowned as the greatest hammer throwing coach of all time. Prior to London, he had guided athletes to medals in five Olympic Games. Johnson’s intent was to make that six. In the Olympic Stadium, he stepped into a cauldron still boiling from the previous evening’s fireworks when the home team claimed three gold medals. The sense of expectation was palpable, and Johnson expected.
It was not to be, regrettably. With the opening three rounds completed, he had produced throws of 73.31m and 74.95m, followed by a foul. That was not good enough to keep him among the top eight, a placing that would have allowed him an additional three throws. Thus, Kibwe’s medal hopes and his Games came to a close. For a man ranked among the top handful in the world last year, this was a considerable disappointment - not in not finishing among the medals; rather, in not fulfilling his potential. For any athlete, that’s the cruelest blow.
Don’t think that, amidst the track and field action, I’ve forgotten about water polo. Au contraire, mes amis, as they say in Stratford. This evening’s action was too intense for that. On deck was the quarter-final match-up between the US women’s team and Italy, a confrontation that would decide which would claim the right to advance to the semis and a shot at the medals. In brief, the US, and its six NYAC women, had to win.
In group play, the USA accrued two wins (over Hungary and China, by one goal, each time) and one tie (the opening match, against Spain). That record matched that of Spain, but the latter finished top of the group based on goal difference. So, the second placed US team faced the B group’s third placed Italians.
This was what you would call a pressure situation. But there’s only pressure if you perceive pressure. Let’s not forget that the US women won silver medals in Beijing. At least three of the current NYAC members were on that team. So...pressure? What pressure? It wasn’t easy, it shouldn’t be at this stage; but, the US got the job done, prevailing 9-6, and setting up a semi-final against Australia on Tuesday (August 7th). (The Aussies defeated China 20-18, earlier today). If he US wins that game, the next one will be for the gold medals. If they not win (I can’t bring myself to say “lose”) then it will be the battle for bronze. Either way, this is getting interesting. They may not be feeling the pressure, but I am.
The crowds at all of the Olympic events have been fantastic. Even in those venues where empty seats have proved nettlesome, the throngs of supporters have created an overwhelmingly positive and fun-loving atmosphere, as you would expect at the world’s greatest sporting event in a country that is crazy about sport. But there’s always one.
This evening (Sunday) the Olympic Stadium was filled to capacity. The men’s 100m final was on the schedule andeverybody wanted to see Usain Bolt. (Bolt retained his Olympic title, by the way, ahead of his Jamaican countryman Yohan Blake and the USA’s Justin Gatlin. The latter has tested positive for drugs on two separate occasions. That’s all I say about that). The sense of anticipation was palpable as the world’s fastest humans were called to their blocks. As they settled in, the stadium fell totally silent. It’s always an eerie sensation when that happens. 80,000 people and not a sound.
As the runners were called to the “set” position, a spectator behind the starting line decided to make his presence known. Reportedly, he had been shouting abuse. At this moment, he threw a plastic bottle onto the track, landing a few feet behind Blake. He and Bolt stated that they were unaware of the incident. Gatlin said that he’d heard it and that it was “...a little distraction. You just have to block it out and go out there and do what you got to do.”
Unfortunately for said spectator, who now resides in an East London nick (as they call the bridewell in Stratford. OK, the cop shop. The pokey. Jail) the person sitting alongside him was Edith Bosch. I know Edith Bosch. At least, I know who she is. She is Dutch, and I’ve seen her in action, in Beijing at the 2008 Olympic Games against the NYAC’s Ronda Rousey, and at the World Judo Championships on more than one occasion. If your intention is to throw a bottle onto the track at the start of the Olympic Games 100m, you should first ensure that Edith Bosch is not sitting beside you.
“A drunken spectator threw a bottle onto the track,” Bosch tweeted. “I have BEATEN him.”
Evidently Bosch saw the incident and, as they say, stuck one on him prior to the rozzers arriving. (OK, the coppers). I would never advocate violence; but, if I happen to bump into Edith Bosch, I’m going to shake her hand...very cautiously and politely.